I grew up in church. I spent more time there than the pastor did. Both of my parents were involved in the ministry without actually being pastors. My mom held a unique position within Children’s Ministry. She did the Christmas plays, Vacation Bible School and the Nursery programs, but did not usually teach the actual Sunday morning Children’s Church. My dad built and ran the sound system.
From the age of five until the age of twelve, I was supposed to be in Children’s Church with the rest of the kids on Sunday mornings. I HATED IT. It was loud. They played games I didn’t understand. They read Bible stories I’d already heard or read for myself. I was either bored out of my mind or over stimulated by what was going on. I despised the songs that involved shouting. I would sit on my chair and hold my ears. Then I would get yelled at for not participating. This would make me cry because no one would let me explain. I would often run out screaming.
This posed a bit of a problem. Most kids who misbehaved were sent to sit with their parents. My parents were always in the sound booth. They didn’t mind me being there, but the church staff did. It was a catch-22. They didn’t want my mom sitting in the sound booth either, but she wouldn’t let them argue with her reasoning that “families should sit together in church.” At least up there, I was away from the smell. I was away from the loud noise. I could sit on the floor and draw.
When I turned twelve, I was too old for Children’s Church, but too young for the youth group. So, I dropped out of existance to a degree for a while. I would go to church with my parents and then go hide. I had hiding spots all over the church where I could disappear and no one could find me. This annoyed a lot of people, but I never hurt anything. I just wasn’t sitting in church.
When I turned 13, I was drafted into the youth group. My dad insisted that I go since my siblings and I had been taken out of school and “needed socialization.” Now, I had everyone involved in the youth group keeping tabs on my every movement at church and was unable to go hide anymore. This is what I experienced:
Walk in the door to the sanctuary and get hit with a virtual wall of perfume/cologne that made me down-right nauseaous. Then I get one person after another trying to hug me and asking me “what’s wrong?” I know it is impolite to say, “You all stink,” so I attempt to look like I’m smiling and say, “Nothing.”
So then the music starts… Music has an interesting effect on me. You’d have to watch me to understand. Thankfully, I did grow up in a church that had no qualms about outright dancing in church, but that’s not exactly what I did. I play “air drums” for a lack of a better way to put it… or the back of the seat in front of me would take quite a beating during the more upbeat songs… during the slower ones, I have a tendency to go into a trance-like state… I love music… it’s like a freakin’ drug… I don’t mind it being loud… I can sing along just as loud. I like to sing. The adults had no shouting songs, it was music… and it was good. My dad ran the sound and knew how to make it sound just right. BUT… heaven help me if someone went off key or if an instrument wasn’t tuned right. I would cringe as if I were in pain. Feedback, on the rare occasions it would happen would make me black out for a few seconds and it took a while to recover.
So, you’ve got me all hyped up now… and the songs end and I’m expected to sit still and listen. With every nerve in me on edge. I’ve got to be still. I last about two minutes before I’m squirming or picking at my face. Next thing I know, I’m bleeding. So, I’m disruptive because I have to get up and go to the bathroom to make it stop. If I don’t go back, I’m hunted down and hollered at to return. I wind up with blood on the sleeves of every coat and long sleeved shirt I own. In the summer, it would wind up on the collar of my shirt because I would pull the front of my t-shirt up to my face. It is embarrassing, but I still cannot control the impulse to pick at myself. It is difficult enough to control the impulse to pick at other people. Sunburn peeling, pimples, they are irritating. It takes active resistance to leave them alone. I have to look away and purposefully get something else in my head.
Or, I would bring a paper and pen and sit and draw, often getting me in trouble for not paying attention. I was told many times over, “If you can sit and watch Star Trek or watch a movie, you can sit through church.” My retort, “I don’t go to movies and Star Trek has commercials.” Mind you, this was said by people who did not see me at home. I never sat still to watch TV. I was always moving around or getting up.
But this is church we’re talking about… there are “spiritual” implications…
I grew up in a Pentecostal church. They expected that everyone should eventually speak in tongues. They liked to lay hands on people. I can’t tell you how freaked out it made me to be surrounded by people babbling nonsense and insisting on touching me. A sensory overload induced panic attack is not the same thing as being possessed and does not require the casting out of demons. Shutting down and appearing to pass out because I can’t take it anymore is not being “slain in the Spirit.” Yet, both have happened to me on several occasions.
But, back then, no one had ever heard of Asperger’s. I was just a difficult and defiant kid who knew too much for her own good. I know the Bible inside out and backward. I have read it cover to cover multiple times in various translations. I knew it at 14 better than most pastors do. So, I asked way too many questions. I did not understand that it was a social faux pax to question church leadership. I did not understand that mimicking their idea of “polite” as an attempt to sound respectful came off as patronizing and condescending. I was ALWAYS in trouble with the leadership.
As a result, most of the kids were basically told to stay away from me, which most of them were more than happy to do. Outside of the youth group, I was rarely included. The only person who went out of his way to include me was Fred. He was the leader of the drama team and he was the only one who actually listened to me. He was the only person there that I could actually trust… and therefore the only person who could get away with any kind of physical contact with me… and it was assumed by many that I had romantic feelings toward him. Given the 12 year age difference, I thought that was one of the most ridiculous things ever thought of… but the more I denied it, the worse people got. Thankfully, Fred had enough sense in his head to not only stand up to them, but tell me, “We are friends. Nothing more, nothing less, and nothing will change that.”
The other problem that I had at church is more difficult to explain. I have the ability to sense the emotions of the people around me. I will post more in depth about this later, but let’s just say that being in a room full of people who are “seeking God” is torture. The emotions run the gammet from desire to skepticism to out right pain? I don’t have words for all of it… but it’s there… and I felt it… and it drove me nuts. I couldn’t talk about it because the few times I did try to explain it I was accused of messing with the occult because the discussion of anything resembling psychic abilities was strictly taboo. I was told that I watch too much Star Trek. (I was a big time trekkie.) Deanna Troi was my favorite character , but that was because she was like me, not the other way around. And, apparently, they considered Star Trek silly at best, evil at worst… I don’t know if this empathic type ability is an Autistic or Asperger’s trait or not, but it does seem to be common among other people I’ve met who have Asperger’s.
I can’t even begin to get into some of the ramifications involved with stimming… There were certain things that I did that caused some interesting sensations that were not at all sexual. I’d been doing these things in innocence and ignorance since I was a little kid, and now I’m learning grown up words for them and it’s being associated with with sex and it’s being called evil… and I was always feeling bad about me. I spent my teen years in anguish and guilt over it. I’ve since learned the difference and believe me, there is a HUGE difference… but knowing now didn’t help me then.
It hurt me very deeply that it was assumed that I was not “saved” or much of a believer because of these things. I thought for a long time that God hated me. I hated Him too, because I figured He made me this way and therefore had no business hating me for being the way I was… Then I learned that the church does not necessarily speak for God. That was one of the happiest days of my life when I realized that God and the church are not one and the same. When it finally dawned on me that God does love me, not in spite of the way I am, but because He made me the way I am… I was bouncing off the walls for weeks.
I didn’t go to church nearly as much after I turned 18. My parents eased up and did not insist so much that I go, especially since I was going to a near by Bible college. I still went to hang out with the one or two people I was friends with, but more often than not, I was either in the sound booth or out in the fellowship hall. When I was 23, my parents left the church. By then I had been married for three years to John, whom I met in college, and we had moved just far enough away to warrant finding a different church. My experience there was different, but this is getting really long. So, if you want more on my current involvement with church, you can read my xanga blog at www.xanga.com/keyststpf
How does having Autism in your life effect your faith?